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Travel Tips to Colombo

By Air

The international airport in Sri Lanka is the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake, which is located 34 kilometres North from the capital Colombo.
The national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines (flight code UL)  flies to 45 destinations in 25 countries. Sri Lankan is one of the largest foreign carriers operating to India, with 90 weekly flights to 11 destinations. It is also the largest carrier to the Maldives with direct flights from Europe.
Some other international carriers serving Colombo are  Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Czech Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Expo Aviation, Gulf Air, Indian Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Malaysian Airlines, Oman Air, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian Airline, Royal Nepal Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.

Getting around

Car Rental and Driving

Driving is easier and a much more pleasant experience when you are away from the congested main cities, but always carry a good road map and phrase book.

To drive in Sri Lanka, you will need an International Driving License or a temporary Sri Lankan license which can be obtained from the Automobile Association of Ceylon (tel: +94 11 242 1158), 40, Sir Mohamed Marcan Markar Mawatha, just off Galle Face Green in Colombo.

Unless you absolutely have to drive, the best option would be to hire a vehicle along with a driver – this doesn’t cost a lot more than hiring a car on its own.

Mal-Key Rent-A-Car

Tel: +94 11 236 5251
Fax: +94 11 250 2494
Email: malkey@pan.lk
www.malkey.lk

Transportation from the Airport

Mount Lavinia Hotel provides airport pickup and drop services. Simply tick the Airport Pickup box when you are making your reservation online. We also operate our own travel desk at the airport, where you can arrange transport to the hotel.

Chauffeur-driven cars

This may be the most comfortable way of getting around in Sri Lanka. Mount Lavinia Hotel provides a comprehensive chauffeur service.

VIP Tours

100, Hotel Road,
Mount Lavinia
Tel : +94 11 2736108

E-mail : viptours@lanka.com.net

By bus

Almost all parts of the country can be accessed by bus which have low fares. Semi-express and express buses ply the roads; they make fewer stops and therefore may reach their destinations a little faster. The fastest buses on the road are those identified as ’inter-city express’. These may be smaller in size with air-conditioning, tinted windows and padded seats and may be a lot quicker as they make limited stops.

By train

Sri Lanka’s antiquated railway system offers a charming way of getting around the country, especially on the picturesque hill country line.

Inter-city Express Trains offer express services between Colombo-Kandy and Colombo-Jaffna There are 2nd Class seats and Observation Saloon seats on the Kandy trains, both of which can be reserved in advance.

Fast-Passenger Trains offer semi-express services between Colombo and other major cities. Accommodation facilities may vary, but include restaurant or buffet facilities, 2nd and 3rd Class seats (which may or may not be reserved) and 1st Class Observation Saloon and Sleeping Berths (which can be reserved). 1st Class air-conditioned service is offered on some routes for groups making prior bookings.

Colombo Commuter Trains offer services from Colombo to destinations such as Aluthgama, Rambukkana, Puttalam and Avissawella. Local trains offer stopping services for commuters between Aluthgama-Galle-Matara, Maho-Kurunegala, Maho-Polonnaruwa, on the Matale Line, and on the Main Line above Rambukkana.
For more information, call train inquiries on +94 11 243 4215.

By trishaw (3-wheeler)

The most convenient way to make short journeys in the island, and even longer journeys where public transport services are not available, is by trishaw, also known as tuk-tuks, three-wheelers and taxis. They are found all over the country and would gladly transport you to any destination.

Always be prepared to bargain and agree on the fare before you start the journey. A reasonable rule of thumb would be to count on around Rs. 30 per kilometre, perhaps a bit more in busy cities such as Colombo and Kandy and slightly less in rural areas. The charges may be higher in popular tourist destinations.

Maps

The best general maps of the island are the Rough Guides Sri Lanka map, which is printed on indestructible waterproof paper, and the Nelles Sri Lanka map, which also has detailed town maps of Colombo, Kandy, Galle and Anuradhapura.  Good detailed maps are also available from the Survey Department at Kirula Road, Colombo 5 – Tel: +94 11 258 5111 (take your passport). The Insight Fleximap Sri Lanka combines clear cartography with informative text and photos illustrating the destination’s top sights. Its easy-to-fold laminated finish makes it ideal in any weather.

Maps of Sri Lanka can be purchased in the UK from Stanfords, 12/14 Long Acre, Covent Garden. London WC2E 9LP, Tel: 020 7836 1321;www.stanfords.co.uk. They have branches in Bristol and Manchester.

Art Galleries, Nightlife, Ayurveda Resorts, Sport and the Outdoors

Art Galleries

Barefoot

706, Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 258 0114
www.barefoot.lk
A treasure trove of art and artefacts, this shop is the ideal place to buy handicraft, ethnic wear, traditional jewellery, Sri Lankan books and other local items. The beautiful courtyard at the back of the shop, which is an art gallery in its own right, is the venue for many different art, sculpture and photography exhibitions.

Lionel Wendt Theatre

18 Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 5794
Colombo’s main performing arts venue hosts occasional displays of photography and paintings by local and international artists.

National Art Gallery

101 AnandaCoomaraswamyMawatha, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 3965

Open daily except on poya days from 8.00 am – 5.00 pm
displays an extensive collection of 20th Century Sri Lankan art.

Sapumal Foundation

34/2 Barnes Place, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 5731
www.theserendibgallery.com/sapu-found
An absorbing selection of Sri Lankan visual arts from the 1920s to the present, particularly focusing on work of the artists of the ’43 Group (whose members laid the foundation for modern art in Sri Lanka).

Serendib Gallery

36 1/1 Rosmead Place, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 114 710 002
www.theserendibgallery.com
A wide selection of Sri Lankan art and artefacts, from antiquity to the present day are displayed here.

English Language Cinemas

Mainstream Hollywood and other English films are shown at the Majestic Cinema (Tel: +94 11 258 1759), on level 4 of the Majestic City shopping mall on Galle Road in Colombo 4. Some English-language blockbusters are also shown at Liberty Cinema (Tel: 232 5265), at 35 DharmapalaMawatha in Colombo 3, while the British Council occasionally screens art house movies.

Nightlife

The nightlife that is available is centred in and around Colombo. Some degree of nightlife is also available in outstation beach resorts such as Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Negombo

Casinos

The city of Colombo contains many casinos which provide alternative nightlife venues for those who want to try their luck at the gaming tables. All of them offer roulette, blackjack and baccarat. All casinos are closed on poya days.

Eating

What to eat

Sri Lanka has wide and varied cuisine where a host of local ingredients combine to provide gastronomic delights with their own distinctive and delicious blend of flavours. Rice and curry is the staple diet in the country had with a different combination of meat, fish and vegetables flavoured with a heady blend of coconut cream and fragrant spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, chillies, lemon grass, cumin, curry leaves, coriander and tamarind.

Learning to eat rice and curry with your fingers would be a nice experience; observe the locals to pick up some tips. There is an array of mouth-watering desserts, sweetmeats and snack foods in Sri Lanka. Don’t neglect to try out some of these indigenous foods. String hoppers and hoppers are some of the favourites among locals.

Many foreigners have fallen in love with Sri Lankan food over the years. If you happen to fall into this category, we offer Chef Publis’ very own traditional recipe book, to take home with you. This is one of the best known cookery books in the island with a wide range of recipes.

Fruits – Sri Lanka has an amazing variety of tropical fruits and it would be a mistake to leave the island without tasting any of them. The island is virtually a paradise of bananas and there is a mind-boggling variety of this fruit, differing in colour, taste, size and even fragrance. A variety you must try is the red sugar banana, which foreigners may find rather unusual.

Pawpaw or papaya is another fruit of a lovely colour which can be eaten for breakfast with a dash of lime or a pinch of sugar. It is good to drink as well, mashed into a puree. Juicy mangoes which are found in almost all areas of the country and custard apples from the upcountry have to be tried to really understand why the locals love them. Rambutan, a cousin of the lychee, mangosteen and durian,  having a rich and creamy flavour but an unbearable smell, are also popular fruit which are available during certain periods of the year. Woodapple is a lovely fruit which could be enjoyed even more, when made into a drink. Blended with coconut milk and made in the traditional way, woodapple juice would be a certain hit with anyone.

Jakfruit is another local favourite; this could be cooked into a delicious curry, when raw; and consumed as a rich and creamy fruit with a heady smell when ripe. Breadfruit is similar and is cooked into curries or just boiled and eaten with scraped coconut and a chilliesambol.

Drinking – Try out one of the local beers which have been brewed in the highlands or the delightful cocktails made of local arrack. These are just as good as imported liquor and are available at a much lower price.

Shopping in Colombo

What to buy

Sri Lanka is an excellent shopping destination for clothes, household items, tea and spices. If you have foreign currency, you should be able to buy a whole cartload of goods at ‘dirt cheap’ rates. The conversion rate between the rupee and most foreign currencies will ensure that you are able to buy good quality items at a much lower rate than in the west.

However, be careful when buying items, specially clothes, with designer labels as the country has a booming market for fake ‘designer goods’. Invariably, these low quality goods which are produced by unlicensed manufacturers and are not the authentic original product.

Other goods that are worth buying are tea, spices, handlooms, masks and carvings and gems such as moonstones.
When travelling outside Colombo, opt for items which may be unique to a certain area. Certain areas of the country are traditionally well known for producing certain goods and such items may offer better quality and possibly lower prices when being bought from their traditional home bases. Galle is famous for traditional hand-made lace. You will find elderly women selling their marvelous creations  on the ramparts. Likewise, Veveldeniya on the Kandy Road is famous for handwoven reed ware such as reed baskets. Ambalangoda is the centre of traditional Sri Lankan mask-carving and although masks could be bought from anywhere in the island, this southern coastal town is where you would find the best available at more reasonable prices.

Note that the export of antiques (defined as anything over 50 years old) and animal or marine products is illegal unless you can produce the relevant export licenses. Contact the Sri Lanka Tourist Board for details.

Clothes

Barefoot
704 Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 258 9305
www.barefoot.lk
An exclusive range of stylishly simple garments in vivid cottons and linens created by Sri Lankan artist and designer Barbara Sansoni. A wide selection of other gifts and an excellent bookshop are also available here. There is also a courtyard cafe of a high standard and an interesting gallery in the courtyard at the rear.

 

House of Fashions

101, D S Senanayake Mawatha, Colombo 8

Tel: +94 112154555

www.houseoffashions.lk
This huge and enormously popular multi-storey emporium acts as a clearing house for Sri Lanka’s garment industry, selling off vast quantities of clothes intended for the foreign labels at give-away prices. Larger-sized foreigners may find it a bit difficult to find clothes that fit them.

Odel

5 Alexandra Place, off De Soysa Circus (Lipton Circus), Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 268 2712
www.odel.lk
The top department store of the city, Odel houses an excellent selection of bargain designer clothing, as well as books, tea and knick-knacks. There are several other branches in Colombo; at Majestic City and Crescat; at the Bandaranaike International Airport; as well in suburbs such as Kohuwela and Ja-ela.

Gifts

Barefoot

704 Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +9411 258 9305
www.barefoot.lk

Apart from its beautiful collection of clothes, this top Colombo shop also sells a wonderful range of unusual cuddly toys, fabric-covered stationery and other collectibles in vibrant cottons which are its signature.

Lakmedura

113 DharmapalaMawatha, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 232 8900
Large and pleasant shop selling a wide selection of mainstream tourist souvenirs from wooden model rickshaws and masks to fine silver metalwork.

Paradise Road

213 DharmapalaMawatha, Colombo 7
Tel: +9411 268 6043
One of Colombo’s most fashionable shopping haunts, this attractive little emporium has an appealing range of fancy household items, decorative knick-knacks and stylish souvenirs.

Books

Barefoot Bookshop

704 Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 258 9305
www.barefoot.lk

One of the best bookshops in Colombo, this contains a fascinating selection of everything from mainstream western blockbusters through beautiful coffee-table books to a huge range of titles on Sri Lankan subjects.

Bookland

430-432 Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 256 5248
Musty, rambling old bookstore with a decent selection of English titles.

VijithaYapa Bookshop

Unity Plaza, 376 Galle Road, Colombo 4
Tel: +94 11 259 6960
www.vijithayapa.com

Sri Lanka’s leading national chain of bookstores, most of which stock a reasonable selection of English-language novels and non-fiction, and a wide range of Sri Lanka-related titles. There are several other branches in Colombo, at Crescat Boulevard and Thurstan Road plus branches in Negombo, Kandy, Galle and Matara.

Gems and Jewellery

You need permits from the Controller of Exchange, Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the Controller of Imports and Exports, National Mutual Building, Chatham Street, Colombo 1, to export gems which you may have received as gifts.

* Colombo Jewellery Stores
1 Alfred House Gardens, Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 259 7584

* Hemachandra Brothers
229 Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 232 5147

* Zam Gems
81 Galle Road, Colombo 4
Tel: +94 11 258 9090

* Manika
34 Galle Face Shopping Village, Galle Face Hotel, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 242 2522

Tea and Spices

* Mlesna, the main tea shop of the island, has branches at the Colombo Hilton, Liberty Plaza, Majestic City, Hilton Colombo Residence (also in Kandy and at the airport).

Shopping malls

Majestic City

Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo 4
A large and glitzy mall with lots of clothes and shoe shops, a couple of well set-up photo labs, a supermarket and food court, and the city’s best English-language cinema.

Crescat Boulevard

Galle Road, Colombo 3

The city’s smartest shopping mall, with a series of upmarket outlets including a VijithaYapa Bookshop, Mlesna teashop, a Keells supermarket and an excellent basement food court.

Sports

Sri Lankans are generally sports-loving people and they are passionate about some sports such as cricket and rugby. Foreign visitors can also get a taste of this passion as most sports clubs and associations in the country accept foreigners as temporary members. Most major hotels in the country also have swimming pools and tennis courts where visitors can indulge in sporting activities.

Cricket

Cricket is much more than a passion, it’s an obsession throughout the country and the exploits of the national team are religiously followed by every man and boy and most women and girls in the country. This interest exists in almost every area in the country, whether rural or urban and almost everyone knows the rules of the game and how it is played.

Test matches are played usually at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo 7, Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy and at the Galle Stadium. One-day matches are played at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy and the RangiriDambulu Stadium at Dambulla. Tickets for matches are available at individual venues.
Cricket clubs which accept temporary foreign members include:

* Nondescripts Cricket Club (NCC)
29 Maitland Place, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 5293

* Bloomfield Cricket and Athletic Club
Reid Avenue, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 1419

Fishing

* Department of Wildlife Conservation
18 Gregory’s Road, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 4241

* The Ceylon Anglers Club
Chaitya Road, Colombo 1
Tel: +94 11 242 1752

Temporary members are accepted into this club which can provide a wealth of information regarding fishing throughout the country.

*Deep-sea Fishing
Rainbow Boat House, National Holiday Resort, Bentota
Tel: +94 34 227 5383

Golf

Three beautiful championship-standard golf courses are located in Sri Lankan – in Colombo, NuwaraEliya and Kandy. The greens fees (the rate that is charged to play at the course) at these courses are an absolute bargain compared to golf courses in most other countries.

* The Royal Colombo Golf Club
Model Farm Road, Colombo 8
Tel: +94 11 269 5431
www.rcgcsl.com

* NuwaraEliya Golf Club
Tel: +94 52 223 4360
Fax: +94 52 222 2835

* Victoria Golf Club
Rajawella, Kandy
Tel: +94 81 2 376 376
www.srilankagolf.com

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking expeditions are organised by most tour operators in the country, but Adventure Sports Lanka  (Contact No. +94 11 279 1584) is one of the leaders with the most experience and knowledge when it comes to operating the island on two wheels.

Tennis

* Sri Lanka Tennis Association
45 Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 268 6174

* The Women’s International Club
16 Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 5072

* Orient Club
Race Course Avenue, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 11 269 5068

Water sports and Whitewater Rafting

Our Sister hotel Club Bentota is one of the leading places for Water sports. Internationally certified by the UIM, Club Bentota has its own Water Sports Centre and qualified animators offering everything from banana boating to jet-skiing and windsurfing to the enthusiast.

The best whitewater rafting site is found at Kitulgala in the hill country. For specialised kayaking and whitewater rafting trips, contact Adventure Sports Lanka (+94 11 279 1584)

Swimming

Mount Lavinia Hotel has its own swimming pool which is available to both guests and non-guests.
We also offer the best stretch of beach accessible in Colombo, if you fancy a swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Rowing
* Colombo Rowing Club
51 Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha, Colombo 2
Tel: +94 11 243 3758

Scuba Diving

A number of reputable and long-standing diving operators are found around the coast, all offering PADI courses and individual dives for those of all standards. A three-day Open-Water PADI course will cost above $350 while an individual dive would cost above $30.

* Diving the Snake
Paradise Island, Bentota and c/o French Pragash Garden, Uppaveli
Tel: +94 77 716 0880
www.divingthesnake.com

* International Diving School
330 Galle Road, Hikkaduwa
Tel: +94 72 223 1683

* Submarine Diving School
Unawatuna
Tel: +94 91 438 0358

* Ypsylon Dive School
Beruwela
Tel: +94 34 227 6132
www.ypsylon-srilanka.de

Surfing

The island’s top surfing spot is Arugam Bay in the east coast, while good waves are also found at Hikkaduwa and Midigama. The best times for surfing are from around May to October at Arugam Bay and from November to April at Hikkaduwa. All these areas have well-equipped surf shops which rent out surfboards, carry out board repairs and arrange surf safaris to various spots around the coast.

Yachting and Coastal Cruising

* Ceylon Motor Yacht Club
Indebedda Road, Bolgoda Road, Moratuwa
Sailing, windsurfing and swimming and available here.

* Kelani Yacht Co.
1a DharmarajaMawatha, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 11 258 7507
A good spot for coastal cruising.

 

* Adventure Sports Lanka

366/3 RendapolaHoragahakanda Lane, Talangama, Koswatte, Colombo
Tel/fax: +94 11 279 1584
www.actionlanka.com

One of the leading outdoor adventure specialists in Sri Lanka, this operator arranges kayaking and whitewater rafting trips, and trekking, canoeing and mountain biking.

 

National park tours

We arrange guided tours of the country’s national parks; the cost of the tour includes transport to and from the site. Admission to any national park is the same per person and there is an obligatory fee for the tracker who accompanies visitors into the park. For a guided tour in relative comfort and safety, a four-wheel drive could be hired for an additional fee. Disembarking from vehicles is strictly prohibited inside the parks unless at specially designated points. Around 6.30AM or after 3.30PM are the best times of the day to view the wildlife in the park.

It is also possible to stay inside the lodges or camps located within most of the national parks. It is better to book accommodation in these areas well in advance. Lodging is best booked in groups of up to 10, and each person has to bring their own linen, dry rations and kerosene. In addition to the charge per person per night, they also have a service charge per stay and the entry fee for the park.
Contact the Department of Wildlife Conservation, 18 Gregory’s Road, Colombo 7, Tel: +94 11 269 4241, email: wildlife@slt.lk

Cultural Triangle Tours

The best way to visit the Cultural Triangle is to be part of a guided tour as the tour operators will get the permits that are necessary for the visits. If you are travelling independently, buy a round ticket which will cover entry to all the main sites such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Kandy (excluding the Temple of the Tooth), Medirigiriya, Nalanda and Ritigala. These round tickets are for one day’s admission, are valid for 60 days and must be used within 14 days of purchase. These tickets can be bought, in Colombo from the Cultural Triangle Office, Atapattu Building, 11 Independence Avenue, Colombo 7 (Tel: +94 11 267 9921). Ticket offices are also located at Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa,  Nalanda and the Cultural Triangle Office near the tourist office in Kandy and round tickets as well as individual tickets can be bought from them. Children under 12 get admission at half price.

Practical information

Begging – Although not as common as in neighbouring India, there are quite a large number of beggars specially on the streets in the city of Colombo. They can be seen mostly around shopping malls, train stations, temples and at other public venues. If you don’t welcome the idea of giving money to beggars, it’s better to carry some food such as fruit to be given to them.

 

Body language – As in many parts of the world, a vertical nodding of the head means ‘yes’ (positive) and a horizontal nodding means ‘no’ (negative). However, the famous ‘waggle’ of the head, a cross between a nod and a shake with the chin pointed outwards, which seems to be a feature common to the Indian subcontinent, could be baffling to foreigners. This usually means ‘okay’.

Never shake hands with a Buddhist monk or Hindu priest. The traditional and courteous way of greeting them is to join your hands as if in prayer and raising them to your forehead. When offering something to a monk, an elderly or other exalted person, offer it with both hands to show that you honour and respect that person. Gifts of money to religious persons should be placed directly in the temple box/till provided for that reason. When seated in the company of a Buddhist monk, try to sit at a lower level than him and never point your toes in his direction which is considered a mark of disrespect.

Most Sri Lankans don’t use cutlery unless they are attending a special function at a hotel-like venue. They eat directly with their fingers, but food is always handled with the right hand as the left hand is considered unclean. The same theory applies when handing things over to another person; either the right hand or both hands are used.

Business hours – All government offices and most private sector organisations operate five days of the week, from Monday to Friday. The opening and closing hours differ, but are generally in the range of 8.30-9.30am to 4.30-5.30pm. Some private sector organisations work a half-day on Saturday. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9.00/9.30am to 5.00/5.30pm; some branches of some banks may be open on Saturday too, if only till mid-afternoon.
Major post offices are generally open from Monday to Saturday, and for longer hours (typically around 7.00am-8.00pm). Almost all shops and banks close on public holidays. Some shops, specially in Colombo, are also closed on Sunday, either the whole day or half a day in the afternoon.
Major supermarkets in the city, such as Keells and Cargills, which have branches all over the country, are kept open until about 10.00pm or even later every day. They close only on certain public holidays. In smaller towns, the shopping hours depend on the shopkeepers; shops may be open or closed depending on the whims and fancies of the owner.

Children – Children hold a very special place in Sri Lanka and you find parents, relatives and complete strangers doting on children. Restaurants cater to children while most hotels and guest houses have family rooms. Baby food and disposable nappies are available in most major supermarkets. Children’s clothing is easy to find, cheap to buy and those made of cotton will be ideal for children to wear.

Climate – Visitors to Sri Lanka will be completely fascinated by the rather unusual climate of the country, where it is possible to come across hot and humid tropical weather, cool and misty conditions and dry and parched areas all within the same day. There are no visible seasonal changes although there may be a slight drop in temperature towards December/January.

The two main seasons are based on the monsoons – the Southwest monsoon and Northeast monsoon. The former blows in from the Indian Ocean, bringing with it heavy periods of rain which may last from May to September. This season usually starts with a month of heavy rain followed by periods of shorter showers. At this time of the year the seas are rough and the coastal tides are rather dangerous; swimming in the sea should be strictly avoided at this time of the year. Even fishermen refrain from going out to sea during this time.